Innovative ingredients boosting sales of mooncakes

Updated: 2016-08-16 01:40

By XU JUNQIAN(China Daily)

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Thanks to imported beef, crayfish and durian, the mooncake industry in Shanghai is embracing a bumper year, despite industry insiders' previously gloomy forecasts.

Unusually hot weather and an early Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Sept 15 this year, should have made it more difficult to sell mooncakes, according to Chen Fengwei, secretary-general of the Shanghai Confectionery Industry Association.

But chefs in traditional restaurants and luxury hotels in Shanghai are bucking the trend by filling the traditionally dense pastries with novel ingredients.

At Hotel Indigo Shanghai, for example, within one month the sales of its wagyu marbled beef mooncake had already exceeded the total sales of traditional mooncakes last year, according to Julie Wang, the hotel's marketing manager.

The meaty mooncakes sell for 18 yuan ($2.70) each.

"Shanghai has a tradition of enjoying pork-filled mooncakes. But with our famous steakhouse, we decided to use our Australian wagyu beef to whet people's appetite. Before it hit the market, we were still worried beef wouldn't sell," said Wang.

On Nanjing Road, a line forms outside the traditional Cantonese Xinya Restaurant as impatient customers hanker after its newly launched yanduxian mooncakes. Taking inspiration from Shanghai's beloved yanduxian soup, which is made from pork and bamboo shoots, the mooncakes were a hit as soon as they were launched.

The Peninsula Shanghai hotel is also joining the fray with a new handmade durian mooncake, an upgrade on its popular egg custard variety.

At Wang Bao He, a century-old restaurant known for its crab dishes, all 6,000 boxes of crayfish mooncakes had been preordered following a mid-July launch.

"I am taking calls every day, asking for more crayfish cakes. But my kitchen is already having a revolt to get the 6,000 boxes out," said Wang Hao, chef at the restaurant.

Each mooncake contains four freshly peeled crayfish, which are fried with garlic shoots and mushrooms before being stuffed into the pastry. Each box of 12 cakes sells for 180 yuan. Wang's kitchen can make a maximum of 200 boxes a day.

Outside the restaurant, scalpers have raised the price to 350 yuan a box, proclaiming that "the price is going up faster than Shanghai real estate".

"New houses will be built every month, but those 6,000 boxes of mooncakes are all Shanghai can have this year," said Qian Guomin, who claimed to have been a mooncake scalper for two decades.

Chen, the secretary-general of the confectionery association, estimated that the city will sell 21,000 metric tons of mooncakes this year, up 0.5 percent from last year.

"The situation is far better than we expected. With multiple adverse conditions, we thought there might be a drop from last year," said Chen.

Since 2013, when the central government's anti-corruption drive led to a dramatic decrease in government-paid junkets and officials accepting gifts, the mooncake industry has experienced a sharp plunge, down by 15 to 20 percent nationally.

But Chen said the campaign had brought new life to the mooncake industry, "bringing real consumers back", instead of only those buying gifts.

"A typical example is the rise of fresh-baked mooncakes, which are precisely targeted at consumers who are buying them to feed themselves," she said.

Chen estimated that half the mooncake makers in Shanghai now offer fresh-baked mooncakes, up from a single-digit percentage just three years ago.